Living the Will of God - The God Who is Into Everything: Matthew 6 Sermon Notes
5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in
secret will reward you.
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (NRSV)
For so many of us, the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of our childhood. We learned it in Sunday School, we said it with our parents; it’s one of the few parts of the church life that some of us know by heart. If someone asks us to pray, most of us could muster up the Lord’s Prayer to say. But here’s the weird truth. It’s not a prayer. It’s teaching about prayer. If you look closely at Matthew chapter 6 you’ll see that Jesus is not praying, but teaching.
The Lord’s Prayer is in the section where Jesus is teaching his disciples how to develop a righteousness or spirituality that God approves. Right after giving and tithing (which he taught them first, by the way) Jesus teaches his Kingdom disciples how to pray.
Now, for reasons that I will explain later, many Christians say this prayer as a liturgy, an act of worship. And while I believe that is perfectly proper, we have to be clear that Jesus didn’t intend it that way. The Lord’s prayer is not a prayer to say, but a way to pray. It’s the scaffolding for building a life of prayer. It is instruction on how to transform our prayers into Kingdom prayers.
5 And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.…
7 “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Jesus is mindful that most prayers fall into two categories, attempts to impress people and attempts to manipulate God. So many of us approach prayer as if it is nothing but either ceremony or an opportunity to ask the Divine Genie to fulfill our wishes. Whether prayer is an act of public piety intended to enhance your reputation, or prayer is a set of incantations meant to tweak the universe to your liking, Jesus condemns both as falling short of real and true prayer.
Kingdom praying is not about our fulfillment, but our transformation. In the Kingdom: Prayer is how we let the God who is both King and Father into every area of our lives.
8…your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 “Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Prayer is the arena for letting the God who is both King and Father to bring his Kingdom, his will to the little piece of earth that is your life. And then through your life he begins to invade this world with his love and grace, truth and peace.
1. King and Father
In this prayer, notice the juxtaposition of two titles. In a sermon on what it means to live in the Kingdom of God, we are told to call God, “Father.”
The word that Jesus used here “Abba” is the word that a Jewish child would learn to call their Father. Or that a student would call their teacher. While it still denotes respect, it is mostly a word of intimacy and endearment. It is a word that denotes a special relationship.
Jesus tells us that in the Kingdom we get to address God as Father. If we take on the reign and rule of God, we become adopted by God. In the Kingdom of God, we are not just subjects, but we are heirs, children of the King. And as God’s children we are called to work with our Father in the “family business” of spreading the Kingdom.
Notice how this juxtaposition continues throughout this prayer. We address God as Father, immediately adding the phrase “hallowed” or “holy” “be your name.” We dare not forget the holiness of God in our intimacy with our Father.
Also, the first petition is not “Father take care of me.” “Father do this for me.” “Father can I have this?” but instead, “Father, I pray that your will will be accomplished. We, your children, pray for your reign as King to be made more and more manifest in our world as it is in your world.”
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Kingdom praying is keeping a clear focus on the gift of knowing that the King of the whole world is our Father and that the Father has called us, his children, to be part of his work to bring the Kingdom to the whole world. Beginning with our very lives. Which leads to our second point.
2. Every area of life
Over a generation ago, Dr. Robert Munger wrote a little booklet called, My Heart Christ’s Home. It is a classic work that has been reproduced literally millions of times.
My Heart Christ’s Home is a parable that compares the human life to a home. When we become a Christian, we invite Jesus to enter our lives, but so many of us only invite Jesus into the entry way. We want him in our lives, but not too far in. Slowly, step by step, the booklet encourages you to invite Jesus into every part of your life like you would invite him into every room in your house. The living room and your public relationships. The kitchen table and your family life together. The study and your work life, your finances, the decisions you make about your future and your security. The recreation room, garage and workshop and all your leisure activities. Your bedroom and the most intimate areas of life. The cluttered closets with all the things you are trying to hide from him. Slowly Jesus insists that every door be opened, every room made available to him until he literally lives and reigns in every part of our lives.
The Lord’s Prayer is very similar. Jesus begins by reminding us that our Father already knows everything we need and would ask of him, so prayer isn’t about informing God of any fact, or any need or anything he doesn’t already know. Prayer is our letting Jesus into our lives for our sake. Kingdom praying is learning to say, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” in every area of my life Lord, because I trust that you are my gracious Father. Trusting in your fatherly care, I invite your reign into my life.
In every area of life, we are to pray—like Jesus—so that in every area of our lives we become like Jesus—the one who lived this prayer. Through his teaching on prayer, Jesus is teaching us the way to be transformed more and more like him. And this is seen nowhere more clearly than one point that Jesus goes back and underlines after the teaching on prayer.
But when Jesus taught these words in the Sermon on the Mount, he said,
forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.
And then added this phrase:
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
According to Jesus (and this is so important that it is the only part of the prayer that he repeats a second time) we must offer forgiveness to others as generously as we need it ourselves.
Forgiveness. That is the point of our secret spirituality, becoming a person who can forgive those who have harmed us, because forgiveness is the activity that is most like Jesus himself.
Let us never forget that we who were invited to live with Jesus in his Kingdom are not the innocent, but the rebellious creatures who ruined the Kingdom in the first place. We are those who are worthy of judgment, who by our sins and actions have rightly earned rejection and condemnation.
When Jesus invites us into his Kingdom, he calls us to turn from our ways of living without God and to now live under his reign and rule. Jesus then invites us into a deep spiritual relationship with him that absolutely transforms our lives. Prayer is about making us Kingdom people who are like Jesus in every way, the hallmark of our lives being our forgiving others the way we have been forgiven.
Conclusion: A “Secret Prayer” Irony—We can’t do this alone.
It is important to remember that this whole teaching on prayer comes as one of three illustrations of Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6:1: Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Once again, the focus of this section is not private prayers for privacy’s sake. It’s not because shared prayers or spiritual practices are unseemly, but for one reason only: So that we Kingdom people will only desire affirmation and praise from our Father and King.
But here is the weird, “Secret Prayer” irony: We can’t truly seek God alone. We can’t seek his Kingdom and his will in our very lives, by ourselves. Left to ourselves, most of us who are attempting to seek only God and God’s transformation will usually end up seeking out those things that will keep ourselves on the throne: our preferences, our desires. We may not seek the praise of others, but left alone we’ll try to manipulate God for our own desires.
I believe this is why Jesus taught us to pray corporately, even in private, “Our Father…Give us this day…forgive us our debts…” This is why he taught his disciples together to pray in plural voice. And this is why St. Tertullian, a brilliant second century apologist wrote that we only truly learn that Jesus is the Son and God is our Father from the Church who is our Mother.
This is why we pray and sing the Lord’s Prayer together in liturgical form, because we who desire to know God as King and Father and have his will and ways be part of every area of our lives need each other to accomplish it.
And I invite you at your next worship service to ask yourself: Is there any area of my life that I have not allowed the God who is both King and Father to demonstrate his love, to exercise his rule? And then open your eyes and pray—in the privacy of your own heart, surrounded by the community of disciples—to let God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done in your life in that church, with those fellow believers in our Father’s world.
Tod Bolsinger joined Fuller Seminary in 2014 as vice president for vocation and formation and assistant professor of practical theology. He transitioned to vice president and chief of the leadership formation platform in 2017. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1993, Dr. Bolsinger served as senior pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church from 1997 to 2014. Prior to that he was associate pastor of discipleship and spiritual formation at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.
Other sermons in this series on Living the Will of God: